This documentary about how Disney movies helped an autistic child, both moved and made Frances Winston chuckle in parts. It is sure to be of interest to anyone with an autistic child, or working in the area
Directed by: Roger Ross Williams – Starring: Owen Suskind, Ron Suskind, Cornelia Suskind, Wayne Suskind
It’s well known that anything ‘Disney’ weaves a certain magic, which seemingly also extends to therapy for autism! That is the premise of this documentary, which tells the story of Owen Suskind, who was, to all intents and purposes, a normal happy toddler, until he suddenly became withdrawn and speechless, only communicating in gibberish.
He was diagnosed with autism, which was devastating for his parents, Ron and Cornelia, as they watched all their hopes and dreams for him fade away. It looked like he would be dependant on others for the rest of his life. Until one day, a few years later, they realised he had memorised all the Disney movies he’s ever seen, and was relating them to his life.
So began a journey of exploration, as they tried to figure out how best to use this to help him, and, when we meet him here at the age of 23, he is now getting ready to move out of home and into assisted housing, and is a far cry from the shell he used to be.
It’s impossible not to be moved by this journey of discovery, where Owen’s concerned parents try to figure out what is best for their son, while his older brother gets ready to shoulder the responsibility for him when they die. Owen may now communicate, but he still has difficulty interacting with people, as he takes everything literally, so he will need, as they predicted, help for the rest of his life. But he has certainly come on in leaps and bounds.
Although you are constantly reminded of the fact he is autistic, his hopes and dreams and aspirations are much the same as those of any young adult, get a job, get an apartment, get a girlfriend. In fact, when we first meet him he has a girlfriend, and watching his brother try to navigate the ‘sex’ talk with him is one of the funniest parts of the movie. Actually, there is a lot of humour here. More than a few clips will raise a chuckle.
Throughout it all, his parents’ pride in him (coupled with a whole heap of patience) shines through, as they lament what could have been, but try to work with what they can to make sure he is the best he can be. They encourage him hugely, and this has undoubtedly been a huge factor in his development.
Disney gave permission for numerous clips to be used here, and that is interspersed with new animation of Owen as a child telling a story about Disney sidekicks, to create something that is inherently charming. There were a couple of points where I wasn’t sure if they were perhaps showing too much, as Owen seems to understand but not comprehend his predicament, and I thought perhaps maybe they slightly crossed the line. However, on the whole, this is funny, insightful and surprisingly intuitive. Owen comes across as inherently charming, and the way his eyes light up when he watches anything from Disney is delightful (a word he uses a lot).
It does feel somewhat stage-managed at times, and it takes a while to get to the point of the story, as they seem to be assuming that you know the premise, but you could do worse than check this out.
Not the greatest documentary ever made, but a nice story of a family united in a common goal, even if they sometimes felt they were all pulling against each other.
In Cinemas December 9th!